Pleasures of Life

The Littlest Stocking

By Audrey Moriarty

When I was a child and my parents were in that special hell reserved for people who are “in-between houses,” I had the great fortune of living with my Grandma and Grandpa for several months. I can tell you they weren’t too happy about it, but my older sister and I thought it had all worked out quite nicely. It was only a mile or so away but it might as well have been another universe.

I won’t say I was Grandma’s favorite, but at the time I was the baby of a whole slew of cousins. Together Grandma and I conspired to keep my mother uninformed of all my transgressions, most involving disputes with my sister that always ended badly, the occasional lapses in my toilet training, and my forays into the forbidden — Grandpa’s office, the delicious pantry, and the totally mystifying medicine cabinet. She handled me in the best possible way. She bribed me with M&Ms.

Half of the perimeter of Grandma’s kitchen was lined with a countertop and a metal Dwyer unit. She would put me on the counter and I could walk from the refrigerator, step down into the sinks, and hike the rest of the way to the end of the peninsula. From my perch on the counter I watched her peel potatoes, tissue thin, with a paring knife, while she called out the names of the birds that came to her feeders and birdbaths.

Anytime I got caught by Mom with wet trainers or a handful of hair I had been forced to yank out of my sister’s head, I would run to my co-conspirator and she would set me on the counter and dry my tears. Then she would whisper to me, “If you look very hard, you will find what I have hidden in the cabinet for you.” I’d search behind the teacups, under the bag of rolled oats, around the Postum, or behind the bacon grease can until, they there were! M&Ms.

This process was repeated many times during my stay with Grandma and Grandpa. I got faster, and she became more and more cunning. She enjoyed hiding them, but never as much as I enjoyed finding them. I savored them, first crunching a few furiously, then holding some in my mouth until the candy shell melted. I even invented a beverage that I continued to prepare for years, putting a handful of M&Ms in the bottom of a glass and filling it with the mysteriously warm and bubbly water at Grandma’s house.

After our new house was finished and we left Grandma’s, we still spent the night on the rare occasions when Mom and Dad went out. One of those times was the night of the annual Christmas party where Dad worked. My sister and I packed our jammies and toothbrushes and couldn’t wait to snuggle in Grandma’s bed, piled in thick quilts and flannel sheets, so foreign from our own. I dressed for the season, sporting my brand new bright red Buster Brown twin set. Mom agreed to the sweaters, but when I put the pressure on for my pair of matching red socks, she balked.

Mom was no pushover, but I know an ensemble when I see it, and I had to have them. I begged, whined and pleaded and finally, she relented. So off we went to Grandma’s, me stylish in all red. The next day, at home, I discovered that I only had one of my socks. I was not about to tell Mom, so I hid the survivor in the back of my drawer and didn’t mention it.

Every Christmas Eve, my sister and I participated in our Sunday School program and afterward went to Grandma and Grandpa’s for dinner and the chaotic joy of gifts. This year my aunt and uncle and their kids, who didn’t have to go to any old Christmas program, were already there, along with my childless and fearsome aunt who lived at Grandma’s. We rushed into the house, stamping snow from our church shoes and smelling the feast of ham and pies. Our heathen cousins had gotten right to the business of shaking boxes and locating the packages with their names on them. But, when we arrived, we were ordered directly to the table. No side trips to the tree for us.

You see, my fearsome aunt’s specialty was torture. She deliberately and perversely slowed the process, ordering people to their spots according to her intricate seating pattern. When she ate, she took tiny bites and chewed them 2,000 times. She made us tell about the Christmas program. She asked us how school was going — what kind of person cares about school on Christmas Eve? We were grilled on what we wanted for Christmas and on and on while we kids stared at each other, our eyes glazed over with anticipation. Then, she offered coffee and dessert, painstakingly cutting geometrically precise slices. When the adults finally finished we ran to the front parlor only to hear a loud voice behind us say, “We can’t leave the kitchen like this!” and we turned to face piles of dirty plates, cups, saucers and pans filling the sinks. My fearsome aunt leered with pleasure.

Hours later, it seemed, pushed nearly to the breaking point, we were ushered into the parlor, where beneath the tree were hundreds of presents. It was so exciting when one of the cousins got something cool and you just knew you were next. Finally, when all the boxes were opened and wrapping papers and ribbons were strewn everywhere and all that waiting was over, Grandma stood up and said, “Oh, I forgot. There is one more thing. Audrey, there is something for you on the tree that you have to find.”

Now you know I had never even looked at the tree, just at everything underneath it. Hanging in the front, pushed back in the dark center, was my red sock, dangling from a ribbon, heavy and full. Grandpa handed it down to me, and I untied the ribbon and out spilled the most perfect candy in the whole world, a special stocking full of wonderful memories.  PS

Audrey Moriarty is the Library Services and Archives Director for the village of Pinehurst.

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